Cries of “Play Ball” are not being heard on high school baseball diamonds this spring.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the WPIAL has aligned with the PIAA and is following and supporting the directives of Gov. Tom Wolf regarding school-based activities.

According to a news release issued by the WPIAL, the action was being taken to “minimize the spread” of COVID-19.

WPIAL director Tim O’Malley reminded schools “that having off-campus practices or workouts during a mandated closure defeats the spirit and intent of the shutdown. Schools should stop any of these activities from occurring.”

The WPIAL Board of Directors is also not releasing any information about spring sports until directed by its governing body, the PIAA, which shuttered its offices until at least the end of March.

The PIAA stated in its own press release it is continuing to work with the governor’s office as well as the departments of health and education to provide updated information regarding spring sports.

While that data may change on a daily basis, the PIAA reminded its participants “some of the qualities that are fundamental lessons of interscholastic athletics are at play here: cooperation, patience, sacrifice, responsibility, respect and teamwork.”

While Mt. Lebanon coach Patt McCloskey and Upper St. Clair coach Jerry Malarkey are disappointed their baseball seasons have been suspended, they grasp the seriousness of the situation.

“This is much larger than baseball,” said McCloskey. “All of the decisions made are in the best interest of public health.

“Obviously, this is a legitimate health threat and we have to deal with it,” added Malarkey.

“It’s unfortunate for spring sports, especially for the seniors, but my hope is this passes and the season could resume safely without jeopardizing the health of our athletes.”

McCloskey said his players learned of the state mandates during a practice, but maintained their “enthusiasm” through exhibition games organized before the playing embargo went into effect.

“I have to give our kids credit. They came out and played with so much enthusiasm that it was impossible to tell from their demeanor that our season was suspended,” McCloskey said. “They are the greatest group of guys and I’m proud to be a part of this team because of their attitudes.”

USC’s attitude remains upbeat, too, particularly in light of the fact its spring training trip to Myrtle Beach was canceled. The Panthers were scheduled to leave for the Cal Ripken Baseball Experience March 20. The nonrefundable trip cost upwards of $12,000.

“The players were really down about it. The trip, as well as the practices and scrimmages leading up to section games, really is a bonding experience for teams,” Malarkey said.

“That aspect has been taken away and now that the season has been put on hold and there’s fear that it may be canceled has taken its toll because the seniors and the underclassmen were so looking forward to the season.

“Of course, health has to be the No. 1 concern, but that doesn’t take away from the disappointment that the kids are experiencing.”

Malarkey said he has had minimal contact with his players.

“I have no idea what they are doing,” Malarkey said. “They wanted to have captains’ practices, but those are not allowed. The ones that I have talked to on the phone seem to be doing well. They are just frustrated.”

McCloskey said he has had no contact with any of his players.

“It’s tough, but you have to keep things in perspective to what’s going on right now,” he said.

A high school guidance counselor, Malarkey said this closure goes beyond sports.

“It’s not just sports,” he said, “but there are school musicals, proms and graduations and other things that are so up in the air. Even if you take away the disappointment, there is a lot of uncertainty moving forward. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, but we are trying to find ways to keep the kids positive.”

Almanac Sports Editor

An award-winning journalist, Eleanor Bailey has been employed by Observer Publishing Company since 1982. She is the sports editor at The Almanac and a contributor for the Observer-Reporter.

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